Tesla just had the worst year in its history, but now it’s starting to look like the best tech company in the world

Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
Patrick Fallon / Reuters
Tesla is a hybrid of tech company and car company — and with various scandals roiling the tech sector, Tesla seems like a tech company that’s at least trying to do good. Tesla endured its own self-manufactured travails over the summer. But with companies such as Facebook coming under fire, Tesla can pitch a better story about its mission. Tesla likes to think of itself as a disruptive, Silicon Valley technology company. That’s far from accurate. Despite over-the-air software updates to its vehicles and a factory in the Bay Area, Tesla is fundamentally a carmaker. It is, however, the most techie of car companies, and that’s actually something of a major advantage now in Silicon Valley. Because, regrettably, the true tech companies are starting to look very, very bad. Facebook, now reeling from a devastating New York Times investigation into the social network’s leadership through numerous crises, no longer appears to be making the world more free and open. Google is mixed up with the military-industrial-digital complex, and Amazon’s HQ2 civic reality show has been greeted with blowback after the online retailer ended up splitting the spoils between the Washington, DC area and New York City — two locations it might have chosen anyway, without months of free press for the effort and incentives from New York state. Twitter … ah, well, Twitter. If you like your online semi-pro wrestling to be 24/7 and no-holds-barred, you know which bird to watch. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) Tesla’s excellent timing And that’s just the major Internet 2.0 players. Apple still destroyed the music business, and although Microsoft isn’t the powerhouse it once was, it’s still with us and not necessarily beloved. The former model of tech misconduct, Uber, has to be delighted with Facebook now taking much of the heat. Tesla certainly endured a summer of discontent, what with its troubled Model 3 launch and CEO Elon Musk’s failed go-private scheme and subsequent SEC action and fines. But the company snapped its season of self-inflicted bad luck in time to turn a rare profit in the third quarter. As it turns out, the timing was excellent, given the impending tech-industry meltdown. At base, Tesla makes stuff in the pursuit of a noble mission: to deal with a global climate catastrophe by freeing humanity from a dependence on fossil fuels. Apart from the media’s coverage of Musk’s Twitter feed, there’s almost zero commitment to advertising, the business that defines Facebook and Google. Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Thomson Reuters Not killing other industries, and manufacturing in the USA Unlike Amazon, Tesla isn’t obliterating legacy industries. And of course, Tesla designs and builds its cars in California, while Apple designs its devices in the Golden State, but assembles them in China. Obviously, Tesla will in the future make cars in China, but for now, it looks like a kinda-sorta tech company that isn’t doing anything notably evil. I realize I’m overgeneralizing about the entire tech sector — there are obviously some decent companies and some solid people, although many of the more solid folks, such as Kevin Systrom, have run away from Facebook, perhaps as a decency preserving strategy. That said, if you’re looking for a Silicon Valley company that’s trying to do the right thing and stands out as a result, Tesla is it. Will the company take advantage of this? That remains to be seen. But it would be justified in doing so.
Get the latest Tesla stock price here. This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Insider.
Elon Musk
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